Madam Speaker, today I will be speaking to the housing affordability crisis in Saskatoon and to our motion, which attempts to get something done on housing, compared with six years of Liberal inaction.
This is my first speech in the 44th Parliament, and I would like to give some quick thanks.
I want to thank the residents of Saskatoon West for choosing me to represent them here in Ottawa. It is my honour and privilege to do so. I want to thank the people who live in our diverse neighbourhoods, such as Riversdale, Hampton Village, Downtown, Caswell Hill, Blairmore, Confederation, Montgomery and the many other areas of the riding. It is my honour to serve everyone there.
I want to thank my family and friends, including my wife, Cheryl; my sons, Kyle and Eric; my parents, Alvin and Irene; and my extended family and friends. I would also like to thank the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek and her husband Milton Block for their support and encouragement over the years. Of course, I also thank my campaign team who got me here, including Steven, Daniel, Lisa, Jared, Sam, Carol and Oliver, and all the other folks who donated and worked tirelessly to get me elected.
I also want to thank the leader of the official opposition for appointing me as deputy shadow minister for citizenship and immigration.
The last speech I gave in the House was in June, six months ago. Instead of coming back after the summer break, we had an unnecessary election, and it saddens me to say that on August 15, when Kabul was falling to the Taliban and when Afghan interpreters, who had risked their lives for our troops, were fearing for their own lives, our Prime Minister was scheming with his party to call an election. We know the outcome of that election: $600 million spent to keep the status quo and Parliament quiet for five months. Now, we are back to the same old game of the New Democrats supporting the Liberals. The sad part is that it was not necessary.
Before the election, the leader of the NDP pledged his unwavering support to the Prime Minister. In February he said, “We will vote to keep the government going.” In August, he tweeted a plea to the Prime Minister to not hold an election, saying that New Democrats were eager to help expedite legislation. Just in November, he said that, if the government wanted to pass legislation, it could count on them. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Afghans wait.
Speaking of elections, the Prime Minister has been quick to mis-characterize our election platform when it comes to housing. This gives me a chance to remind him and the entire Liberal caucus of our real plan.
Canada's Conservatives committed to building one million homes in the next three years; addressing corrupt practices, such as money laundering, which have driven up prices; making it easier for more families to get mortgages; building more homes near publicly funded transit; banning foreign investors from buying homes if they are not planning to move to Canada; partnering with municipalities and the private sector to build new rental units; encouraging foreign investment in affordable, purpose-built rental housing for Canadians; addressing, in the spirit of reconciliation, the housing needs of our indigenous communities; and redeploying underutilized government buildings as housing. This is the Conservative plan for housing in action.
Someday soon, we will be in government. When we are, Parliament will be sitting and ministers will have mandate letters. We will implement sound legislation that builds Canada up instead of tearing it down. In the meantime, we will do our best to hold the government to account. Our motion today is just one of the ways that we can do that.
We know that the government, with over 37,000 buildings, is the largest property owner in the country. We also know that much of this space is underutilized. Conservatives want to turn over at least 15% of this space for homes.
In Saskatoon, the federal government owns 37 properties with over 1,000 hectares of land. This includes 98 buildings with a combined floor area of 146,000 square metres, so 15% of that is 22,000 square metres, or about 75,000 square feet of housing. At 750 square feet per house, that is 100 new homes in Saskatoon alone. This is the Conservative plan for housing in action.
I am also calling on the Liberal government to commit to never introducing a capital gains tax on the sale of a primary residence. The Liberal campaign plan, on page 13, promised to begin taxing the sale of primary residences. Initially, only primary residences owned for less than one year would pay the tax; however, we all know these rules change over time.
The Liberals' spending spree will eventually force them to expand this tax. It is a slippery slope that I want to stop before it even gets going. I know that folks in Saskatoon would be very upset by such a tax, and that is why I am calling on the Liberals to stop their plan to tax primary residences.
I would like to provide an update on the housing situation in Saskatoon. Much of the focus is on the large metro centres like Toronto and Vancouver, but we have many of the same housing affordability problems in Saskatoon. I held a town hall on this very subject in the spring and received significant feedback. Participants spoke about the impacts on everyday working people, the impacts on seniors, and especially the impacts for those living on minimum wage and government support.
First, they talked about the price of homes, which is continuing to rise. In Saskatoon it is not as high as in the bigger centres, but it is still increasing by 6% year over year. Even at that rate, a house will increase in price by 70% in 10 years. For a young couple, it seems impossible to save up enough for a down payment, and it forces nearly everyone to opt for the 5% down payment option. The problem is that CMHC insurance fees eat up almost all of that down payment, so the typical first-time homebuyer claws and scratches to save, only to give that down payment to the government.
At least interest rates are low, but they will not be for long. The historic lows are coming to an end, meaning big surprises for homeowners at renewal time. To provide context, my first mortgage 30 years ago was at 13%. Do members know why rates were that high? If they stay tuned, I will talk about it in a minute.
The second thing I heard was that the cost of rent keeps getting higher. A cheap place in Saskatoon is $1,000 a month now. That is well beyond the affordability of many lower income folks. It forces people to share housing, couch surf or simply live on the streets. I have had many immigrants say to me that they came to Saskatoon because rent and house prices were low. This is no longer the case, causing some of them to have to move away to larger centres.
Third, people spoke about the direct impact on our homeless population. More and more people are sleeping on the streets. Besides COVID, addictions and mental health problems, the cost of housing is now further complicating the lives of our homeless population. Just this morning, Saskatoon city council was forced to approve a plan for a temporary shelter to house 50 people over the winter as an emergency measure.
What about the Liberals' rapid housing initiative? As our local paper said, “Saskatoon struck out in the first round of...$1 billion”. Apparently, Saskatoon was not a target area for the Liberals' spending. Finally, last week the government did pledge $7.5 million to build 34 homes, but it is a very modest start, and I believe the government should be embarrassed, considering that Saskatoon is one of Canada's 20 largest cities.
I mentioned that 30 years ago my first mortgage was 13%. Do members know why rates were so high back then? Out-of-control government spending led to inflation. Which government was in power for most of the years leading up to this crisis? It was the Liberals. Who was the prime minister who started all the excessive spending? It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau. There is a direct link between excess government spending and inflation. Excess spending increases inflation, which increases interest rates. It is just a matter of time, and it appears that time is now.
We cannot just blame COVID. The Liberal spending spree started long before COVID, as reported by the Parliamentary Budget Officer this week. The Liberals have been adding programs and civil servants from the first day they were elected. Their philosophy is that government is the solution to every problem. The more government and the bigger it is, the better. The finance minister said it would be irresponsible not to borrow money, since interest rates are so low. The Prime Minister famously said he does not think about monetary policy, which means he is not worried about inflation or the economy.
The Liberals made a trillion-dollar bet that interest rates would stay low. It appears that they were wrong, and homeowners will pay the price. We have seen food inflation at 15% and housing inflation at more than 20%. Average pay cheques are barely rising. These are real-life consequences for a Prime Minister and a finance minister who have clearly stated they do not care about the economic consequences of their actions. Inflation is rising, and interest rates will surely follow.
We can contrast that with the Conservative plan, which has two underlying foundations. One is that deficit spending and massive debt will hurt our long-term prosperity. Any Canadian who has piled credit card debt on top of credit card debt knows that reality. Eventually it gets out of control. The second is that the current macroeconomic reality means that inflation is out of control. Wages are stagnant and prices are going up. Purchasing power goes down and people get poorer.
The Conservative party has always been the party Canadians turn to when the economy needs mending. We are here to provide solutions to Canada's housing crisis. Conservatives have always fixed the mess created by the Liberals, and we will do it again.